By Tom Travis
In a press conference today Mayor Sheldon Neeley along with Police Chief Phil Hart presented a three-point plan to combat crime in the City of Flint:
— Formation of a Special Investigative Unit,
— A recruitment effort to hire new officers, and
— A “no questions asked” gun buy back program.
Noting the ongoing pandemic, the social upheaval and call for police reform and growing crime statistics across the country, Neeley said we’re at “an intersection of crisis.”
“We have many variables before us that cause this type of activity and through out our country,” Neeley said. He and Hart both referred to an “uptick in crime,” both noting that it is everywhere, not just in Genesee County and in the city of Flint.
Chief Hart explained the current crime statistics. “The increase that we’re seeing is really not all that great,” he said. Increases are a 12.5% in homicides, 17% overall violent crime, property crimes are down by 21%, and overall crimes are down.
“But it’s ‘the uptick in violence’ that we’ve noticed,” Hart said. “We’re putting this program in place to bring the numbers down, and there’s no telling how long it will be in place– but it could become permanent.”
On stage in the Dome auditorium with the mayor were Michigan State police officers, Flint police officers, and several pastors from the community including Dr. Herbert Miller, Pastor Monica Villarreal, Pastor Jeffery Hawkins, Bishop Roger Jones, and Pastor Daniel Moore.
Special Investigative Unit to get illegal guns and criminals off the street
Neeley explained the three-point plan to combat crime begins with the formation of the special investigative unit that will focus on training officers in tactical expertise to get illegal guns and criminals off the streets. Chief Hart noted that there are already some officers that have this training and can be put on this Special Investigative Unit immediately.
Referring to the special investigative unit and getting the illegal guns and criminals off the streets, Chief Hart said, “That’s what’s causing the issue right now with the uptick in shootings. This new unit will have specialized training in order to seize these weapons and get them out of the hands of people who have ill intent.”
Neeley added, “We wanted to establish a joint effort with our local law enforcement and including our local colleges. The new task force will be put together with just Flint Police Department officers. But we are welcoming all other law enforcement entities to partake in this as well. We’ve seen this done in other communities with success. City of Flint has about 44 Michigan State Police assets within the city of Flint jurisdiction. This is from the secure cities partner initiative from the state of Michigan.”
Asked how many officers will be in the new special investigative unit Chief Hart said “We don’t give out the number of officers on the new task force because that is tactical information. But this will be a hard hitting, hard fighting crime unit.”
Recruiting new hires to fill 14 open positions
Regarding the second part of the three point plan, Hart said, “We will be doing recruitment along with our partners in the religious community. But we are working towards getting our own residents from the city of Flint, putting them through the academy and get them out on the streets into their own communities where they have a vested interest to take care of their own community and people.”
These positions have been open for a long time and we are working to get these positions filled. Anyone interested in applying can apply at www.cityofflint.com and by clicking on the “Jobs” tab will be directed to the application process. Chief Hart added that a new contract for Flint Police Officers will include an increase in starting salaries for new police officers.
The City Council has already approved and budgeted funds for these open positions to be filled.
Mayor Neeley added that the reason the local clergy were present is that he hopes they will engage the community to find those interested in filling the open positions on Flint Police force.
“No Questions Asked” gun buy back program
Finally the third point of the plan to combat crime will be a “no questions asked” gun buy back program. The City will pay $50 for long guns and $100 for hand guns.
The dates and locations of these gun buy backs will be announced later. Those that want to turn in their guns will present them and will not be asked no questions. Chief Hart explained, “we give them the money and they’re on their way.”
EVM asked how the city will pay for the gun buy back program. Neeley said, “we have philanthropic partners that have given us dollars and we are repurposing those dollars as we speak into a way that we can actually safe guard our lives. We are thankful Chief Hart was able to obtain the grant for $411,000 from the Department of Justice. That money will free up some dollars in the Police budget to be used for the gun buy back program.
Local pastor Jeffery Hawkins, who has lost two of his children to gun violence, was invited to the podium by Mayor Neeley. Hawkins who is on the Advisory Council to the City of Flint Police Department described how he comforted the mother of yesterday’s homicide victim “as her son laid in the middle of the street covered up, dead.”
Hawkins added, “I’m encouraged by this meeting today. There is more of this to come as to what we want the City of Flint to look like. I am encouraging all who live, all who work and all who love the city to come together and work for the common good of the city. This violence has to stop.”
“Everybody has to be held accountable,” Hawkins implored. “I believe we can do it. I believe we can be that change and encourage that change. So we can not only see the numbers cease but see these numbers no more. No parent should have to look at their child covered up on the pavement as a homicide victim. And then have to go through the gruesome task of trying to make burial arrangements. It has to stop.”
Neeley reminisced, “I remember as a child when the policeman came to speak to us in kindergarten class. The saying then was, “The man in blue is a friend to you.” The narrative has changed over the years but we have to restore the confidence of the residents in the city, county, state and across our country.
Neeley added, “We have fine law enforcement officers in our community doing really good work. Let’s not define them by the acts of some. When the greater whole is doing the job to protect us. We have to depend on them and be part of the teamwork that’s going to bring about the change that we want to see – law and order in our community. The law enforcement officers have a very difficult job and This administration will support them, wholeheartedly and stand behind them when they are doing their job correctly.”
“We can not do the job of the law enforcement without the community. We all have to do our part. On God’s green earth one particular part of land is no better than any other. People make our community. It’s people that make it better or worse for all of us. I have witnessed shootings even on the block where my family lives. It’s a very trying time for our community but we have to remain vigilant. We have to remain strong in this time,” Neeley concluded.
EVM assistant editor and reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org